Actually, the battle over which new high-definition DVD format will earn your gift-buying dollars this holiday season may already be over. Which is why Disney’s Magical Blu-ray Tour, the studio’s whistlestop campaign to promote the more prevalent of the two rival formats, felt more like a victory lap than a PR offensive.
At least it did to me as I attended the tour’s 11th stop on Friday in Long Island. Blu-ray reps weren’t fretting over their competition, and the atmosphere was more consumer-friendly than cutthroat publicity campaign. No wonder, since, six of the eight major studios have decided to side with Blu-ray (Paramount and Universal being the sole dissenters) and more than 170 companies adopting the format. Not to mention, more of your favorite titles — like Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (pictured) and Cars — will be available only on Blu-ray, while Michael Bay’s Transformers is one of the few dealbreakers HD has in its arsenal.
So, what’s the difference? And what does this format skirmish mean to you? After all, both Blu-ray and HD, viewed on one of those $2,000, 1080p flat-screens, offer jaw-dropping visual clarity. Both formats will have theatersscrambling for higher quality, as evidenced by the widerelease of Beowulf on IMAX and digital projection screens next month. Both Blu-ray and HD are backwards compatible, so I don’t have to chuck the 150 DVDs I already own. And both have a high level of interaction. Get bored watching Cars and you can actually play along with the movie. Want to know about Lightning McQueen and the history of the Ford GT40? Just push a button. If you’ve already spent all your lunch money for a PS3 or XBox 360, then you know about the interactivity afforded by Blu-ray and HD. Play movies, video games, CDs, and access the Internet all on one console — kind of hard not to use the cliché, "something for the whole family."
As a non-tech-geek consumer, the major difference I see is availability. One of the few legs HD really has to stand on is its cheaper price (about 100 bucks), which to a broke post-grad such as myself is a major selling point. But with only two studios backing the HD format, there aren’t that many titles offered. (At least, not in the States, though you can find more HD titles if you’re willing to buy your discs from overseas retailers.) Plus, Toshiba and Microsoft are the only companies offering HD players, the idea being that Microsoft will have some type of computer download compatibility, because, as you may have heard, that’s the way of the future.
Still, I doubt this will be a major revolution like VHS to DVD or cassette to CD. I’d say it’ll be the equivalent of Betamax, Laserdisc, and MiniDisc all falling by the wayside. In the end, though, it’s really up to you, the consumer, which format survives. So, what’s it going to be? Blu-ray or HD? I’m abstaining ’cause my TV is a 20-inch dud — cleaning my screen with Windex is the closest thing I get to high-def.
*Full disclosure: The PR folks for Disney were kind enough to send a carto the EW offices in Manhattan for the hour-long ride to Garden City.(I’m weak and I’ve been humping it on the subway for three straightmonths.) But I promise, despite the free water they gave me, I remainedunbiased and did my HD homework before being bombarded with pro-Blu-raypamphlets.